A few years back, I was searching for vintage photographs of women knitting, and came upon the subject of Welsh women knitting while wearing the most intriguing ensemble I’d ever seen!
What caught my eye immediately was their distinctive tall hat– and the wonderful mix of pattern in their dress. The women photographed are usually of the farming class, rather no-nonsense looking, and completely captivating. I knew one day, I wanted to paint them!
And thus, my painting “Welsh Knitters” was born! I set them in a rural Welsh landscape with, of course, a bright Welsh Corgi companion as they walked along the country road. I studied photos of Welsh stone walls for the wall that leads to the little cottage garden, and became enchanted with the landscape of rural Wales.
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, and a place determined to keep it’s culture alive and unique from it’s English neighbors to the east. In Wales, you’ll find many people speaking Welsh first, English second, and that’s also how most things are labeled from shops to street signs.
That determination to preserve the Welsh identity is also why the Welsh folk dress, as painted in my painting, has continued to survive through the centuries. It is a symbol of national pride and identity. In Welsh, the dress is called Gwisg Gymreig draddodiadol, and was worn by the women of rural Wales.
History of the dress seems to only go as far back as the late 18th century, when tourists began visiting from outside countries and describing the unique way the countrywomen dressed. Most noticeable was the tall hat, and it seems that the women of Wales were fond of wearing men’s hats in general. They style seems to evoke 17th century men’s hatwear fashion, but I didnt see any direct connection in my reading. Many times the women also wore a white ruffle edged cap beneath the hat, but that was not always the case and may have been a regional option.
In the 18th century, the dress was something called a ‘bedgown’ made of Welsh wool, but as the year progressed changed to cotton– usually with a blouse in one pattern in a skirt in another (usually striped)– as cotton fabric became more readily available.
The cut of the blouse, the use of kerchiefs at the neck, shawls of wool or imported paisley all seemed to be used depending on the specific area of Wales. Women who lived closer to the English border or sea ports were more current in their fashion, while the women in rural inland areas could be years behind on dress cut and fabric choices.
In the 19th century, the dress was worn more for special occasions and market days, and specifically as a point of national pride. Women would wear their traditional dress as they went to sell their wares in town, with their clothes making the point that their wares were locally made and authentically Welsh.
As the tourism industry grew, and the affluent from other areas of Britain came through Wales to take the sea air, the traditional Welsh dress became recognizable as a symbol of the area. Postcards of countrywomen in their dresses, usually working on knitting, circulated. When national events were hosted, the dress was also worn.
The dress is now worn today in Wales mostly as a costume, specifically to celebrate St. David’s Day and by dance teams or choirs. I love that the look, humble as it is, has stood the test of time when so many old regional forms of dress have been forgotten, or swallowed up by industrially produced fashion.
And with all that in mind, I humbly present my own take on a pair of Welsh knitters. Perhaps they are headed to market, along with their trusty corgi. Or going to a friend’s house to knit together. Or maybe you have your own story of where these lovely Welsh ladies are headed?
The painting is now available in my etsy shop and in need of a home! I will also have prints at a later time.
I hope you enjoyed this little exploration of the history of the Welsh dress! I think they’re absolutely beautiful.
Til next time,
More information of Welsh traditional dress can be found here…
9 thoughts on “Welsh Knitters painting & the unique Welsh dress”
I love folk art and the history of it. We go back to the Powis family on my paternal grandfather’s side. At 16 I visited England for 6 months, staying with family. We spent 1 night at Powis Castle. Wales is beautiful. I loved listening to Welshman speak. Loved the breakfast we had. I bought a small tea pot but it has long been broken and lost. What a lovely story. I loved being in England and wanted to stay. I applied to University of Dundee in Scotland. I was accepted and chickened out. Often wish I would have gone! But, then I would not be here, like this! God has a plan! 😂
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Oh, what an amazing opportunity to get to visit the UK. I hope I’m able to, one day. As you say, everything happens for a reason! Maybe if I paint it enough, it will happen? 🙂
So lovely. My husband’s parents are Welsh and I love sharing the culture with our children but *whispers* I never really liked the costume. But you make it look so beautiful!
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Hehehe, I’m glad you like them better in the painting– I think seeing in color makes all the difference! I love how they’re usually shown knitting or with tea. Those are accessories I can get behind!
This is fascinating. It makes me wonder where the idea of “matching” clothes began. What we think does and doesn’t look good worn together is clearly cultural. But I wonder how did it start?
This was a wonderful post, I’ve always wondered about the Welsh way of dressing!
Thank-you for this most interesting post on Wales!!! I wish I had know about it two years ago when we visited there. The costume is so interesting and how it came about is equally intriguing. Wouldn’t it be awesome to attend a St. David’s Day celebration today and see the women wearing these traditional dresses in the traditional fabrics?
Your disc or photos of Wales is in the mail and I hope you enjoy seeing them. Maybe they will inspire another painting of this rugged and beautiful piece of England.
There is a saying that goes like this; “I once danced with a mam , who dance with a girl, that danced with the Prince of Wales”. It refers to the ever popular Prince Albert of the early 1900s who , unfortunately was not only handsome, but unfaithful to his wife! If you want to know more about him, read the engaging story of his mistress Lilly Langtree.
Wow! Incredible post! I knew of Wales but knew little of it. Please keep these coming! I am not able to work because I’ve been ill. As a former educator, I look forward to continue my learning nonetheless. Thank you for helping me continue my joy of learning!
So very interesting. Thank you. I want to recommend the book This Golden Fleece by Esther Rutter, if you do not already know about it. It would really speak to you. There is even a chapter on Welsh dress!